The Play-In Game
Forget that the NCAA calls this the “opening round” game. The loser of the Tuesday night game between the Monmouth Hawks and the Hampton Pirates won’t get to experience what the winner and 63 other teams go through. Those teams get to join seven of their peers at a subregional site, in arenas packed with fans and media, and play before a network television audience.
God bless the people of
A little history about this game: The NCAA added a 65th tournament team in 2001, when the Mountain West and Western Athletic Conferences were formed by the split of the old WAC. Rather than take away an at-large bid from a presumably more marquee school, they expanded the field to 65 and created this awkward arrangement in which all 65 teams technically qualify for the tournament but the two deemed the weakest have to play an elimination game.
The concept is OK, but the wrong two teams are in the game. Instead, the NCAA should have the last two at-large teams play their way in. First, it would have two more recognizable teams. Second, it would be fair to the kids from these smaller schools whose dream is just to make it to the NCAAs. They deserve to see what all the hype and hysteria is about. If Air Force, supposedly the last team into the field, wanted to complain about having to meet, say, Bradley in
So while the rest of the college basketball world might forget about these two teams, I won’t. Here’s a quick capsule on each of them:
This is the third NCAA appearance for the Pirates, who posted one of the biggest upsets in NCAA history, in terms of seeding. As the 15th seed in 2001, they shocked No. 2 Iowa State, 58-57, one of only four times a No. 15 has won a tournament game. The postgame scene of coach Steve Merfeld being lifted, spread-eagle, by one of his players is an image that defines how special it is when schools such as Hampton get to play the top teams. Merfeld has moved on to
Monmouth Hawks (18-14, champions of the Northeast Conference). Located in
Monmouth has an NCAA tournament history as well, though it isn’t as successful as
Other interesting facts about this game: The winner of the first play-in game was
Neither of these teams has a losing record, but I’ll follow the trend and go with the school with the worse record. The pick here is
Play-In Game History
2006: Monmouth vs.
2003: UNC-Asheville 92,
2001: Northwestern State 71,